City Hall column: budget burnout

My fatigue with the budget is showing a little in this week’s column. But a two week vacation should fix that. Just one week to go.

Budget storm fizzles as Gatsas gets some sun

Feb. 27, 2011

Every time the mayor leaves the country, a storm kicks up.

A powerful nor’easter swept through New England in February 2010, knocking out power, closing schools and sending tree limbs crashing through roofs. The newly inaugurated Mayor Ted Gatsas was on vacation when the storm hit. Via the city website, he urged residents without power to seek shelter at the Cashin Senior Center.

February 2011 brought a different kind of storm, again rearing up while the mayor was in Aruba. This one proved to be little more than a quick, mid-budget squall.

The Board of School Committee last week attempted a revolt. Instead of slogging through a Gatsas-mandated marathon budget session on Monday just to finish in a bleary-eyed vote, a handful of members decided to bypass Gatsas and hold a workshop of their own. The meeting’s driving force, Committeeman Chris Herbert, said the board wasn’t making much progress while the mayor was there and hoped that in his absence members could craft their own budget, not just make subtle tweaks to the one Gatsas and Superintendent Thomas Brennan put together.

The meeting got off to a rocky start. When Vice Chairman David Gelinas called the meeting to order, eight members were in their seats, just enough for a quorum. Committee member Donna Soucy arrived during the Pledge of Allegiance to make it nine, and Herbert — who called the meeting — arrived about 15 minutes late, delayed by last-minute adjustments he was making to the budget numbers he later brought forward. WMUR Channel 9 showed up to stake out a spot next to committee member Kathy Kelley, hoping to get a comment about her being charged recently with misdemeanor conduct after an accident, and a little more than an hour into the meeting, two members walked out.

No action was taken on the budget.

Not that something happening twice indicates a trend, but if the mayor is re-elected this fall, he and his wife might want to reconsider heading to the Caribbean, at least until after budget season.

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Landlords dodged a $15 bullet when the Committee on Administration and Information Systems decided not to charge for the newly mandated landlord agent registration. Since Jan. 1, some multi-unit rental property owners have had to register the name, address and telephone number of a person within New Hampshire authorized to accept legal summonses resulting from problems at a property. The intent of the law is to give local communities more tools to track down out-of-state absentee landlords who are cited for building violations.

City Clerk Matt Normand, whose office is in charge of the registrations, asked the committee whether it would like to charge a registration fee. Other communities are charging about $15; some include an additional $5 addendum fee whenever a property changes hands or a new agent is registered.

“We tried to push electronic filings so property owners could e-mail us this form. In doing so, it relieves a lot of administrative burden on us,” said Normand. But electronic filings eliminated the city’s ability to charge a fee, since Manchester does not accept payments online. And then there are the 250 people who have already registered without paying a fee, Normand said.

This was a problem. If a fee was charged, it would mean more work for city staff and a special trip to City Hall for property owners. If aldermen rejected the fee, it would save city workers and property owners work, money and an additional headache.

Normand added that the fee would largely be a one-time revenue source because property owners register an agent once and then don’t do it again unless the property is sold or another agent takes over. The aldermen, seeing little financial benefit, took a pass on the new revenue.

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City workers are getting their blue on. The New Hampshire Colorectal Cancer Screening Program is holding Dress in Blue Day on Friday to promote routine colorectal cancer screenings, and city staff are being asked to join in.

This year in New Hampshire, about 720 people are expected to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 210 people are likely to die from the disease, officials estimate. The number of new colorectal cancer cases could be reduced by 90 percent with early testing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 60 percent of state residents older than 50 are getting screened, but program officials want more participants.

To get people to the doctor — or at least talking about the often uncomfortable subject — the program is asking businesses, nonprofit agencies and cities and towns to encourage staff to wear blue on March 4. The aldermen signed on last month after former Tax Collector Joan Porter told them she was a colon cancer survivor. She credited early detection of the disease to a routine colonoscopy.

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